Friday, 2 April 2010
10 childrens comics that adults can enjoy
With brilliant characters often seen to outwit their adult counterparts, as well as possessing very mature neuroses that we will all recognise, the children's comic is often ripe with satire and political ideas, and should not be overlooked:
The Japanese produced animated series was a nice mix of cutesy idealism and freakishly terrifying segments which were genuinely unsettling to me as a child (Moomin turning into a hairless monkey, and the eiree pulsating white creatures spring to mind). The original syndicated newspaper strip however as well as being charming and dare I say it 'quaint' can easily be enjoyed as an adult for its satiric elements. Through the adventures of the Moomin family Tove Jansson was able to poke fun at upper middle class pretensions, the world of modern art, and much more besides.
Miss Peach-Mel Lazarus
A lesser known gem of teacher pupil comics by Mel Lazarus about a class of over inquisitive and boisterous who run rings around the adults they encounter.
Long before the G8 summit Walt Kelly's Pogo made us aware of the environmental crisis with the classic line 'we have met the enemy and he is us'. Walt Kelly managed to make a 'funny animals' comic strip about swamp land critters into a witty and lyrical social and political satire that like George Herrimen's Krazy Kat developed a language all of its own which was inspired by Kelly's American-Irish upbringing (he has often been compared to James Joyce when it comes to his use of language). Kelly himself was considered a progressive independent in terms of his politics and was said to be against the extreme Left, the extreme right, and the extreme Middle. He was also considered enough of a threat that the FBI kept his phone tapped and at one point the U.S Government was in contact with a journalist who claimed that the eccentric jargon Kelly invented for his Pogo strips was actually a secret Russian code (this was of course during the era of the McCarthy communist witch hunts). Not bad for a mere 'funny animals' cartoonist!
Calvin and Hobbes-Bill Watterson
The classic newspaper strip by American Bill Waterson featured the over imaginative high jinx's of a young boy called Calvin and his stuffed toy tiger Hobbes who he sees as a living breathing life sized tiger. Inspired by the likes of Pogo, Krazy Kat, and Peanuts, the strip lends it's six year old protagonist a highly advanced vocabulary, mixed with a child's natural curiosity. Like The Moomins Calvin and Hobbes also pokes fun at the art world, through Calvin's unusual melted snowmen sculptures, pictures of dinosaurs in rocket ships, and pavement art ('suburban postmodernism'). Although being careful never to reference real people or events Watterson lampooned public decadence and apathy, commercialism, the pandering nature of the mass media, the flaws of public opinion polls, education, environmentalism, and much more besides. Witty and with a playful and colourful drawing style the eventual demise of Calvin and Hobbes left a gaping hole in the newspaper strip which would only later come to be filled by Richard Thompson's Cul De Sac.
Cul De Sac-Richard Thompson
This modern day newspaper strip is obviously good enough to warrant a praiseworthy introduction by the creator of Calvin and Hobbes Bill Waterson and follows on by putting sometimes adult voices into the mouths of inquisitive children who are as bemused at their parents odd behaviour as they are at theirs. At times wonderfully colourful with a superb use of watercolours and scratchy and erratic line work Cul De Sac is one of those wonderful rarities, a comic that will make you laugh out loud.
Charlie Brown is probably the most depressed figure in children's comics ever and perhaps sewed the seeds for neurotic confessional indie comic artists everywhere even more so than Justin Green and Robert Crumb. Charlie Brown was the ultimate anti-hero, his life a regular Kafkaesque roll call of disappointments. He couldn't fly a kite, kick a ball, or win a game of baseball but we loved him all the same. Of course this Kafka reference could be construed as being a little bit pretentious, but I wouldn't be the first to make it, just look at this satirical strip from R Sikoryak:
As for the strip itself Charles Schulz could read the little idiosyncrasies of children fantastically as well as giving them an almost pure intelligence and inquisitiveness. He mixed social and political satire brilliantly launching attacks on the Vietnam war, the psychiatrist gags and the interaction between Lucy and Shroader, and seemed to ignore gender equalities completely, the singular black character fitting in amongst them without question, and females playing on the baseball team. Not to mention that some of the animated films were pretty great too.
Krazy Kat-George Herrimen
The premise behind this classic 1910's strip is quite simple. Mouse despises cat, cat loves mouse. Mouse throws brick at cats head, cat sees it as a sign of mouses love. In the meantime the local police officer, a dog, tries to prevent mouse from throwing brick because dog loves cat. Repeat with variations. Of course the fact that the cat's gender was never clearly specified gave this strip an almost radical and ambiguous streak (especially considering the time it was created). Herrimen himself lived with a certain amount of ambiguity in his lifetime, being born to two light skinned ('mulatto') parents he often passed himself off as white, or of Greek descent, and he was even recorded as being Caucasian on his death certificate.
Krazy Kat is one of those few comic artists who have been embraced by the world of fine art who see the seeds of surrealism in his work and the similarities between some of his ever changing backgrounds and the work of someone like Miro are quite striking (it was also said that Picasso was a fan).
Little Nemo In Slumberland-Windsor McCay
Created by Windsor McCay (arguably the creator of the first animated film) the artwork for this one of the pioneering strips of early comic strips makes fantastic use of Art Deco landscapes, optical illusions, immense feats of warped perspective, lashings of colour, and an inativive spreading of images across several panels, as well as some spectacular larger panels.
The only criticism I would have of this classic strip, is that being so early, the use of narrative text at the bottom of the panel below the speech balloons would often confuse the reading order and break up the strips continuity.
Similar in appearance to another famous cartoon little girl called Nancy, Argentinian cartoonist Quino's creation Malfada is a young girl with strong political opinions and a desire for world peace and a love of humanity. This is a strip is considered by its creator to be socio-political with strong family values thus explaining the stronger presence of adult characters in it as opposed to Peanuts which featured none (except for the omnipresent yet invisible teacher).
The Kin-der-Kids-Lyonel Feininger
Another pioneer in comics early history and a deliberate step away from the violence of other kids strips like Happy Hooligan etc. Serialised in The Chicago Sunday Tribune between the years 1906 and 1907 The Kin-der-kids is a beautifully coloured, painted, detailed, whimsical strip similar in vein to Little Nemo in which a group of children travel the world in an antique bath tub and use their various 'skills' (bookishness, huge appetite, strenght etc) to help them out in their adventures. Visually stunning and sparing and effective in its use of dialogue, some of the adult characters possessing strange almost malnourished faces.